Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was in the news this week, angering the hyper-partisans by warning that we face a repeat of the last economic downturn without appropriate financial regulation. She was not the first Fed chair to be targeted by elected officials. LBJ, president during the Summer of Love, had, two years before Haight-Ashbury, summoned Fed chair Bill Martin to his Texas ranch, where he bullied him about interest rates, for manipulating rates can create short-term prosperity, with obvious political benefits, for the party in office. Martin, who served under five presidents, caved. Nixon would pull the same stunt, fueling inflation. Who remembers WIN, whip inflation now, the mantra of the Ford administration? This economic pressure on folks who had generally thrived in the post World War II economy set the stage for the revolution of greed that would seize the nation in 1980, permanently replacing the virtue of the common good with the vice of selfish-interest. Short-term political gain produced long-term harm to our national character.
You would think people would learn that everything is connected, that there are almost always unexpected consequences, that an economy is a living thing and that the effort by one individual to get their way no matter what could do devastating damage. But we humans can be slow learners. Over a decade later, then presumptive GOP nominee George H.W. Bush commented on rates with a degree of frustration from the family compound in Kennebunkport, and while the Fed held its ground, the market was spooked, acting as if rates had been manipulated even if they had not, and slowing the economy. Some believe this contributed to the success of Bill Clinton’s campaign with the mantra “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Stupid is the right word, though the good news is that it is bipartisan stupidity. Never pull a string unless you are sure where it leads. And you probably aren’t sure where it leads. Creation is not ordered around discreet and autonomous entities. Autonomy is a human delusion at best, for as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, inter-being is reality. Quantum physics is telling us the same thing.
Connection is everything. In tractate Berachot 34b of the Babylonian Talmud, the Rabbinic tradition teaches that one must only pray in a room with windows. Why? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, suggests that even when we gather “together for spiritual strength, we must never shut out the sights and sounds of the world beyond our doors.”
The community of love is not a closed autonomous community. It is as connected as the early church, spreading across a network of Roman roads and trade routes, always attentive to the needs of others, just as those early churches in Corinth and Thessaloniki took a collection for the sisters and brothers in Jerusalem, crushed by drought, famine, and the brutality of the police state. The greatest innovator in that early church, the courageous risk-taker that is why we are here, was a convert from Tarsus.
Paul would have us think of the beloved community like a human body, and he was right, but he had no clue, truth be told, for the more we discover, the more we realize that we ourselves are not contained. Walt Whitman famously wrote “I am large, I contain multitudes.” You are large, you contain multitudes. You are a walking ecosystem, dependent on symbiotic bacteria. Heck, some scientists even suggest that mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, were once independent organisms. You must take things in to your physical body in order to remain alive. You must expel things from your physical body to remain alive. You must take ideas in to your mind in order to remain mentally alive. You must expel things from your mind to remain mentally alive. You must take things in to your spirit in order to remain spiritually alive. You must expel things from your spirit body to remain spiritually alive.
And, ignoring the myths of Enoch and Ezekiel, your physical body will come to an end like every other human body that has ever existed. But the connections will not, for creation is wonderfully weird.
This church, this beloved community, is wonderfully weird and will bring things in, hopefully nourishing things like the new members we celebrate today, will see things go out, like the brother in Christ we will bury this afternoon. Sometimes, like a human body, the beloved community will need to expel what is toxic and dangerous.
And yet, what is gone is never gone. Those who think of the beloved community as a thing, a contained entity, their church, do it a grave harm, but so too do those who forget the connections, the entanglements that tie us at the molecular level to all that has gone before.
The community of love is attentive to this dynamism. It prays by the window as our sister tradition advises and sees the world. It never forgets that it came into being in the oddest of places, a collection of misfits, an un-credentialed prophet from the boondocks, fishermen, a tax collector, wealthy women, and a tentmaker who had a vision on the road to Damascus.
A tentmaker who connected churches so that Rome learned and used what worked in Galatia where churches learned and used what worked in Corinth that learned and used what was working in Antioch and what was working in Jerusalem, all of it innovation and new directions initiated by a rabbi who said “Wake up! While you’ve been sleeping, the kingdom arrived.”
We are hand and foot and even a little spleen, and we do not expect the hand to digest food and we do not ask the foot to listen though it may well tap to the rhythm, for we recognize that we have different gifts, that we need not dishonor God’s creation by flattening the church and insisting that everyone be involved in everything, for we are large, we are multitudes. Christ is the only head of this body, this beloved community, and we suffer when a part tries to be all thing, for it cannot. You were created and called. You did not create yourself.
There will always be those who insist that their way is the only way, the tongue that rebels against the head and the heart, a destructive flame of fire as the Epistle from James warns us, parking lot chatter and no end of triangulating, but the beloved community, the community of love, is multitude, is dynamic, and it can adapt. We can love the fearful, the insecure, love them back to health.
The community of love is not satisfied with a window, with simply being reminded of the sorrow and beauty of the world outside. It seeks to be in the world for the kingdom of God is there in the world, and it seeks, in love, to share that news, to draw people into that kingdom, to bring people through the door to this locker room of faith so that we might send them back into the world a little stronger, a little braver, a little more whole.
But for too many communities that claim love, the only ones they want to come inside are those exactly like them, with the exact same values, the exact same taste, the exact same beliefs, for bringing in those who are different means change. To resist change is to resist love, just as those who are unwilling to change, unwilling to take risks, never find romance. Romance leads to life and and our God longs for us like a lover. Yet we resist, close our borders and slowly decline into navel-gazing death.
Church, community, nation… fear is death and clinging to the past is death, and sameness is death, and love is at the window, is kicking open the door, is breaking down walls to welcome the strange and new. Life adapts and experiments and mutates, learns, is a string connected to God knows what, and God does not know what, is the freshness deep down things, is life.
The community of love is courageous. The community of love is courageous.
A fig tree does not produce olives and a grapevine does not produce figs, and the community of love does not produce anxiety, conflict and fear. It produces love. And you shall know them by their fruit.
Will they know us by our fruit?
A living changing network, a body with Christ as the head. It’s not the economy stupid. It is love.